Just Finished Reading: Particle Physics – A Very Short Introduction by Frank Close
This book is part of my continuing plan to use the excellent VSI series to expand my knowledge base into new areas and deepen my knowledge in others. I have read several books in the area of Quantum Mechanics and Sub-atomic physics over the years and, though I don’t fully understand everything I read, find myself fascinated by this bizarre aspect of our reality.
Starting from seemingly very simple questions regarding matter and existence – so much so that for the first few pages I thought that the author had pitched the contents too low even for an introduction - this small volume quickly ramped up the pace forcing me, at times, to struggle to keep up. Fortunately for my Humanities trained brain, the author peppered this book with very few mathematical equations and charts but with enough detailed diagrams for me to grasp the meanings behind his explanations. I’m still convinced that I missed quite a bit but felt confident enough to imagine various ‘flavours’ of Quarks forming the sub-atomic particles we know and love. I’d heard about many of them before but was introduced to a few that were new to me including the Bottom Quark – yes, you read that right! Funnily these guys seem to answer the question of why there is something rather than nothing. Apparently bottom quarks are more massive than their anti-matter alternative so, not long after the Big Bang and the resultant matter/anti-matter annihilation there was still enough matter left over to make everything you see around you. At least that’s what I took away from the explanation offered. So next time a theist asks that particularly annoying question you can confidently reply: Bottom Quarks!
Anyway, the author covers theories of matter, how we actually learn about it, the different types of accelerators and colliders and how the particles are actually detected. Further discussion is on ‘exotic’ matter, anti-matter and the curious question of where matter comes from. Questions raised at the end of the book cover ideas on Dark matter (and Dark energy) as well as the hopes for the, then under construction, Large Hadron Collider.
All in all this was an interesting if, at times, difficult read. It certainly hasn’t put me off reading more on this fascinating subject and I’m hopeful that one day I’ll be able to wrap my head around some of the more general ideas in this field. I’ll never understand the maths but at least I can stand back and appreciate the wonderful strangeness of it all. Recommended for anyone who fancies a bit of mind stretching.